Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Simmons Resurfaces With Several Problems In “Making Friends And Influencing People!”

The Good: Good character development, Plot develops in an engaging way, Decent performances
The Bad: One-too-many “twists,” Very heavy on plot
The Basics: “Making Friends And Influencing People” enhances the villainy of H.Y.D.R.A. when Simmons works within the organization to recover an asset for S.H.I.E.L.D.

As the big twist for the second season premiere of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the character of Simmons who was seen throughout the episode was revealed to simply be a hallucination of the remaining tech for S.H.I.E.L.D., Fitz. Spoiler. Two weeks after the premiere, it’s not really a spoiler. But the fact that Simmons was no longer with the team begged the question of where she actually was in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The third episode of the season, “Making Friends And Influencing People” addresses the Simmons question right away.

Simmons is now with H.Y.D.R.A. Fortunately, the episode does not ask viewers to buy that premise for too terribly long before it comes to the truth: Coulson has been using Simmons as a mole within H.Y.D.R.A. since she left his S.H.I.E.L.D. unit. In “Making Friends And Influencing People,” Simmons is explored, but the episode is actually a de facto sequel to “Seeds” (reviewed here!), more than it is a continuation of the prior episode.

H.Y.D.R.A. is hunting for Donnie Gill, a gifted teenager who is essentially a mutant who is able to freeze objects or people with just a touch. With Coulson feeling somewhat disillusioned over the number of former-S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that have gone missing and fallen under the influence of H.Y.D.R.A., Coulson goes to visit Simmons. Simmons has been working in H.Y.D.R.A.’s laboratory, unwittingly working on Donnie Gill’s case. When her supervisor at H.Y.D.R.A., who are currently working to break S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent 33, call Simmons up to his office, Simmons is forced to confess she knows Donnie. As Coulson and his team plan a raid on the cargo ship that Donnie Gill has taken control of, Simmons is put into the field to try to recruit Donnie for H.Y.D.R.A.

But the mission goes sideways when Fitz, taking advantage of the absence of the rest of the team, visits Ward in his prison. In exacting revenge upon Ward for his hypoxia-related injuries, Fitz learns that Donnie was approached by H.Y.D.R.A. and his escape from the Sandbox did not go down the way Coulson thought. With S.H.I.E.L.D. and H.Y.D.R.A. clashing on the cargo ship, Donnie and Simmons are both put into jeopardy with their true allegiances being tested.

“Making Friends And Influencing People” is very well-made, but it has some issues, almost all of which are related to other episodes and how the episode fits in with the larger arcs. The most serious of these is related to the character of Fitz. In the prior episode, “Heavy Is The Head” (reviewed here!), Fitz illustrates the implications that his subconscious knows that the Simmons he has talked to for months is a figment of his imagination when his hallucinatory Simmons encourages him to talk to Mack. Fitz did not make the breakthrough where he consciously indicated he knew that Simmons was gone. But, in “Making Friends And Influencing People,” he knows that Simmons is gone (he shows no reaction to Coulson saying that Simmons hasn’t been around). That Fitz just suddenly accepts that Simmons is gone and has been does not fit when “Making Friends And Influencing People” is considered in-context.

“Making Friends And Influencing People” continues the trend in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. where the show is essentially becoming a supernatural version of Alias. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is now a spy thriller and with Simmons working as an embedded agent inside H.Y.D.R.A., the burden on the show now is to be clever and tread in a direction that is new and different. “Making Friends And Influencing People” does not do that yet and, unfortunately, with the show’s obsession with creating twists at the end of the episode, there is the sad implication that H.Y.D.R.A.’s superior officers have plans for Simmons. That the mission on the cargo boat climaxes in a predictable way is somewhat disappointing.

What is not unfortunate is that “Making Friends And Influencing People” focuses on Simmons – who was a very minor character in the first season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - and does a decent job of servicing her character. For all the issues with the lack of character for Simmons, in the first season, she was characterized as a monolithically good person. Given that Simmons is seen right away working for the villainous organization H.Y.D.R.A., “Making Friends And Influencing People” does not insult the viewer’s intelligence by dragging out the idea that Simmons is working for H.Y.D.R.A. exclusively. Coulson and Simmons share a scene together that instantly establishes that Simmons is as good as viewers remember her to be. At the same time, Simmons’s character does move forward; as May notes, Simmons has learned to lie.

The reason to watch “Making Friends And Influencing People” is for a moment near the very end of the episode that is possibly the best in any spy show EVER. When Fitz asks Coulson whether or not his boss has been completely honest with him, Coulson says that of course he has not disclosed everything to Fitz; he’s the head of a spy organization!

Such a great moment pairs with an otherwise mundane spy story well. “Making Friends And Influencing People” might not be perfect or great, but it is watchable and it makes one want to tune in to the next episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

For other works with Reed Diamond, please visit my reviews of:
Meet Bill
Spider-Man 2
Homicide: Life On The Streets

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season here!


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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